Sunday, 23 December 2012

Top 20 Albums of 2012*

1. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
Heartbreaking, delicate, beautiful yet strangely uplifting Perfume Genius’ second album showed that his incredible debut wasn’t just a fluke, but the product of a rare genius.
Listen to: ‘Sister Song’

2. Grimes – Visions
Sublime electronica combined with vocals that dodge between haunting and strangely baby-ish. Enveloping and enduring.
Listen to: ‘Oblivion’

3. Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
Subtly rousing emo-indie, dreamy in places and simple but effective indie rock in others.
Listen to: ‘No Future/No Past

4. Stumbleine – Spiderwebbed
Atmospheric combinations of weird electronic noises and Cocteau Twins-esque vocals. It carries you away on gradually layered waves, surreal and addictive.
Listen to: ‘The Beat My Heart Skips’

5. Sigur Ros – Valtari
Pretty much everything that you could hope for from a new Sigur Ros album.
Listen to: ‘Ekki Mukk’

6. Tall Ships - Everything Touching
Including a fantastic (if at first surprising) revamping of EP track ‘Ode To Ancestors’ this album cements Tall Ships in their place as one of the most exciting bands around.
Listen To: ‘Books’

7. The Bronze Medal - The Bronze Medal
A release I’m unlikely to ever grow tired of listening to, it blends together into one mass of sublime yet powerful vocals and melodious guitars.
Listen To: ‘Womb'

8. Joyce Manor  - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Combining raw angry energy and furious guitars with melodies that wouldn’t seem out of place in the charts Joyce Manor were always going to be a hit. This album does feel pretty short, but there’s certainly something to be said for their directness.
Listen To: ‘These Kind Of Ice Skates’

9. The-Dream/Terius Nash – 1977
Originally released as a free download  last year, this album is hopefully finally going to get the notice it deserves. Nash’s lyrics are as clever as ever, laying his feelings bare in a way that’s almost difficult to hear.
Listen To: ‘Form Of Flattery'

10. Taylor Swift - Red
Swift has moved away from the more mediocre pop fare she favoured, growing into a powerful pop phenomena. This album is frankly just bangin’ (except that track with Ed Sheeran. We pretend that hasn't happened).
Listen To: ‘The Lucky One’

11. How To Dress Well - Total Loss
12. Drake - Take  Care
13. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
14. Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital*
15. The Heartbreaks - Funtimes
16. Ace Bushy Striptease - Outside It's Cold Just Like Your Body And
17. Lucy Rose - Like I Used To
18. Sfumato – These Things Between
19. Peace - EP Delicious*
20. The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know                                    
*A couple of these are admittedly EPs

Honourable mentions to:
  • Keel Her
Listen to: 'With Me Tonight'
  • Kitty Pryde
Listen to: 'Okay Cupid'

Thursday, 8 November 2012

First Listen // Sailplanes ~ We Are An Industry

 Read on Goldflakepaint

An important component of any good band is a clear sense of certainty in their sound. It’s no good listening to something that’s confused, or as a result of an uncertainty, seems like it’s chosen to be boring instead (although I should be clear – that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the sound of band experimenting or trying something new). This requirement is exactly why the new EP by Sailplanes is something of a gem. Only three tracks long, it’s hardly going to tax your ear or your time. But with a solid, comfortably delivered sassy sound it’ll be an enjoyable ten minutes of post-punk, with female vocals that are distinctly reminiscent of the excellent Life Without Buildings.

There’s a definitively relaxed feel to their cheery, noisy, jangly tunes and, on The Fox, some lovely girl/boy vocals from vocalists Stacey and Tim. “Blue, grey-green eyes” they sing, in a lovely medley of sound. The effective use of boy/girl vocals is rare outside of twee music and is something to be valued.
Sailplanes sound great and fun, and if you’re looking for a pleasant, charismatic, engaging listen, then look no further.


Friday, 12 October 2012

Johnny Foreigner @ Firebug Leicester - 10th Oct '12

Firebug is a cosy pub/bar with an upstairs venue area, with what is probably the greatest feature of a small venue I’ve seen yet – sofas! It’s not a big room either so there doesn’t feel anything impolite about sitting comfortably in a sofa/armchair to watch the supports. First up are Falcon who launch into some Tall Ships-esque math rock, but with lovely melismatic female vocals (although she’s a bit quiet – but that could be down to the down the sound person, or her cold). Playlounge wander on stage next with little ceremony, shaking the wooden floor with their furious noise-pop. There’s quite a bit of buzz around these guys at the moment, and they certainly deliver live.

Johnny Foreigner begin their set with Alexei and Kelly standing in the crowd to deliver ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs You’ entirely acapella (except for the piano melody playing quietly in the background). It’s a nice chance to see just how good Alexei’s voice is, it easily fills the room and Kelly’s slightly huskier answering phrases contrast well with his clear, emotive vocals. The softer atmosphere is soon shattered as they leap on stage to thrash out ‘Feels Like Summer. The set list is well chosen and they’re on top form tonight (despite some initial technical difficulties). There are a couple of new songs in the mix as well, from an album due out at the end of this month (“called NAMES…because names are important”). It’s difficult to judge new material on the basis of one listen at a gig, but it seems like Johnny Foreigner are set to continue with the gorgeous success that is ‘Vs Everything’. Both tracks are that blend of catchy beautiful melodies, and angry violent guitars, that Johnny Foreigner weave together so well.

They opt to leave out the usual ploy of leaving the stage only to return for an encore, instead explaining the situation and then diving straight into an old favourite ‘Sofacore’ (which at one point meanders into Star Trek and then back to ‘Sofacore’ again). The sublime ‘New Street, You Can Take It’ sees the whole crowd singing along for the final few lines, followed by ‘Absolute Balance’ – another old favourite, which closes things perfectly.

It’s the first gig Lobandwidth has reviewed in its/my new home of Leicester, and it’s a fittingly special one. Johnny Foreigner are perhaps not the most consistent live band in terms of sound - if you’re unlucky they can be a little ramshackle (but in a very endearing way). Either way you’re guaranteed a good show and an enjoyable evening regardless - and if you do catch them at their best, like tonight, they’re very very good indeed.
words by Mel Reeve

Album Review // Sfumato ~ These Things Between…

Read on Goldflakepaint

Describing himself as a “drummer who decided to sing an album of songs which I sing with myself”, Sfumato (actually named Daithí Ó hÉignigh – Sfumato is a painting technique used by Da Vinci), has created a blissful, elegant album. Dodging between vibrant, joyous choruses and soft ballad like moments, tinged with a delicate melancholy. It gently winds its way into your brain,where it’ll quietly stay put.

The use of violins hints at folk influences, but avoids the trap that many bands often fall into of using this as an excuse for a very simple, basic (and boring) song structure. Instead, the strings add a harsher edge to otherwise sweetly melodic moments. ‘Pound’ features some spectacular illustrative drumming, “pound goes my heart” Ó hÉignigh sings, followed by a thumping beat that brings to mind Slow Club’s latest record, with its distinctive drumming. Exquisite, soft female vocals hide underneath O hEignigh’s own rich voice, occasionally coming to the foreground to great effect, such as on ‘Fly To Me’ and‘Song To Myself’ – which also features some truly sublime saxophone; a hint of smoky jazz clubs and melancholy improvisation leaks in, fitting perfectly with the carefully strummed guitar.

These Things Between stands out because it’s a clever album. There’s almost always strong melodic interest and it’s constantly surprising. Even the sampled crow noises at the beginning of ‘Pound’ avoid sounding clichéd or ridiculous, instead somehow being exactly what is needed to ease out from the faster pace of ‘Fly To Me’. It’s an unusual album at points but certainly never even close to un-listenable, instead it becomes vibrant and exciting. Sfumato are certainly a band to keep an eye on.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Review // Nosferatu D2 ~ Live At The Spitz

 Read on Goldflakepaint

Everyone is familiar with the particular kind of sadness that comes when a band you love breaks up, the gigs you’ll never get to experience again, the thrill of a new release that will never happen. So it follows that there’s probably nothing worse (musically speaking anyway) than discovering an incredible band, after they’ve split up. In the case of Nosferatu D2 we were all somewhat on the backfoot to start with, as their incredible album ‘We’re Going To Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise’ was released two years post-humously. It’s thanks to the efforts of the excellent record label Audio Antihero that you can hear them at all. You’d be forgiven for thinking that with basically all ND2’s recorded music having been released and no intention of reunion that there’s nothing more left for ND2 to five, but in typical AAH fashion, almost magically they’ve produced a new release.

It’s a live recording of ND2’s last ever gig, supporting Los Campesinos! and Sky Larkin. Described as a “DIY” recording, you might be expecting something fuzzy and unlistenable, but that’s not the case at all. Remastered by Benjamin Shaw (of ‘There’s Always Hope There’s Always Cabernet’ fame) this album captures the messy power that gives ND2 such a charisma and pull. Crashing cymbals, emotive vocals and some truly unbelievably good drumming, framed with the occasional mumbled “cheers” and the audience’s reactions. There’s also a track not on ‘We’re Going To Walk Around…’ called ‘A Man At War With Himself’ which is fast paced, furious lo-fi indie at its best and shows just how good ND2 really are/were.

What was always my favourite song of the album ‘Flying Things And Pests’ is brought somewhat further to life than the album version. With the barely audible murmurs of the crowd adding some great atmosphere and the dark, honest lyrics giving extra punch – which combined with lead singer Ben Parker’s vocals, quivering with feeling, create something really special. Parker achieves a particular kind of honesty and wry humour with his clever way with words, the opening lines of ‘2 People, 0 Superpowers’ embodies this talent “a heart with no soul is just offal, and a soul with no heart is something I don’t wanna talk about today”. Lines like this, and the gloomy descriptions of everyday life are widely applicable in that very specific way that can lead a band to real success, but more importantly create music that really means something.

This live album is partly a way to discover just how good ND2 were, but nostalgia and hindsight aside, it’s a very good listen in its own right. Seeing a band live is often a good way to refresh music that you’ve over-listened to, and if you’ve been suffering (as I have) from having only ten ND2 songs to listen to, ‘Live At The Spitz’ is the perfect way to re-engage with the band. But that’s not to say that it’s only for ‘fans’ of ND2, it will lead new listeners to discover a truly vibrant and enjoyable band.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Review // Why? ~ Sod In The Seed [EP]

Opening title-track and first single from the EP is essentially irrefutable proof that Yoni Wolf is an unbelievably talented lyricist; his delivery of clever lines is slick, quick, charismatic but never so much so that you miss the words. It’s always of such a quality that for most other bands even one verse of the same standard would be considered impressive. The EP version of this track is slightly longer, with a few more lines to break up the repeats of the hook – which is where it falls down slightly. “I’ll never shirk, this first world curse” Wolf echoes, and after he’s done it a few times it begins to get on your nerves. The rest of the track I could listen to almost endlessly, and it’s perhaps more a reflection of just how unbelievably good the rest of the track is, rather than a true criticism.
But that’s pretty much the only point of the entire EP, that isn’t quite up to WHY?’s usual (very) high standard. ‘Probable Cause’ features a rather lovely piano and soft vocal hook, a little reminiscent of their Sanddolars EP. ‘Twenty Seven – For F.M.V’ features a beautifully poetic image, elegantly crafted and delivered impeccably, “pulling the first soft feathers from a new born robin fledgling, saying she loves me not, she loves me” and with the dark undertone that often shows through, giving WHY? something more of an edge.
Wolf’s incredible way with words is always going to make WHY? an enjoyable band to listen to, but it’s even better when the quality is matched by the surrounding music; which in this case it is. It’s perhaps not as totally flawless as say, their 2005 album Alopecia, but it’s still of the high quality you’d expect from the band and most definitely heightens the excitement around their forthcoming fifth album.
Read on Goldflakepaint

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Amateur Historians - New Homes/New Hopes

The trio have already received high acclaim, Jen and Ally’s BBC Introducing show on Radio 1 featured them a few days ago, and sang their praises. First single ‘These Cities Are Stealing My Soul’ has also been very popular, making the rounds on various blogs.
Comparisons with Johnny Foreigner and Los Campesinos! are somewhat inevitable (the glockenspiel on Interlude could well haunt them) but by no means are they re-treading old ground. There’s the strong hooks and melodic certainty that calls to mind bands like Tellison, as well as the messy euphoria of Johnny Foreigner’s earlier stuff (or Cap’n Jazz) and ‘These Cities Are Stealing My Soul’ opens with a gorgeous guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dananananaykroyd track.

But it would be unfair to consider Amateur Historians only in the context of other bands; they’ve got an energy and intelligence all of their own that marks them out. There are many excellent moments of euphoric-emo-pop but the contrast of those with softer track ‘Interlude / Arterial Route From Heart’ is what shows the range of their talent. The chorus seems almost designed to be shouted back by heartbroken teenagers - it’s the perfect blend of clever, emotive and widely applicable. But still with that all important sincerity.

Their lyrics weave stories of beautiful cities at night, long-distance relationships and the strains and stresses of youth, all wrapped in a glorious, rousing combination of yearning guitars. With an occasional hint of glockenspiel and a certain kind of charm achieved only by bands you know are trying to create something genuine.

Buy: bandcamp

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An Apology and Some Reviewing

Like many other things in the UK, Lobandwidth will grind to a halt during the Olympic period (that includes my radio show), due to ‘circumstances beyond my control’. Radio, blogging, reviewing and all of that will resume from around the 14th August.
Rather than leaving you with a gaping hole in your life/dashboard here are a few recommendations to tide you over:

Playlounge have been announced as support for Johnny Foreigner VS London part 3. Fuzzy guitar mixed with gorgeously melodic guitar hooks, echoing vocals and surreal titles, their thrash-pop with a charismatic lo-fi/bedroom recording feel is set to be the perfect companion to Jo-Fo. Also playing that night are Her Parents, who don’t seem to have anything available to listen to online, but as they’re made up from members of Dananananaykroyd, Internet Forever and Stairs To Korea it’s got to be good.

Gross Magic’s ‘Teen Jamz EP’ is full of 90s indie influences, but it’s clear they’ve also got a strong talent for making their music extremely catchy. Sweetest Touch sounds like the soundtrack to a Freaks & Geeks-esque TV show and it’s taking the nostalgia popularised by Best Coast/Wavves to a new level.

Xiu Xiu are something of a favourite here at LBW (in case you haven’t guessed), they’ve got a new single out on cassette and vinyl. But that’s not what’s caught my eye, a fan-run tumblr has uncovered this recording of Jamie Stewart covering the Pixies’ ‘Gigantic’ (from 1995!). It’s difficult to make a cover stand up to the original, especially with such an incredible song, but Stewart does it marvellously.

Euan Lynn’s brilliantly titled four-track EP ‘She’s So Rad But I’m So Sad’ is a mix of “surfy-punk” and Game Boy based electronica. Starting off with a Scott Pilgrim reference it’s as noisy yet enjoyable as you might expect.

And if you missed it last time I posted about them, make sure you check out The Bronze Medal. Their set at Bristol Harbor Festival was incredible, especially considering only 2/5 were well enough to play, and they only had an hour’s notice. A really great band, worth keeping an eye on.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Bronze Medal - The Bronze Medal

For a while the only tracks by The Bronze Medal available have been a heartbreaking serenade on the importance of calcium for strong teeth called ‘Milk’ and a couple of acoustic videos on youtube (including a beautifully harmonised Frightened Rabbit cover). No more, however, must I listen to the same two songs on repeat to get my fix, as they’ve released an EP.

Only four tracks long, it’s perhaps a little short for my taste, but then that’s only because I could listen to the gorgeous, yearning sound they create for hours. With distinctively powerful and emotive vocals that somehow also manage to sound fragile, and a constant undertone of longing and sadness The Bronze Medal are probably best compared to bands like Dry The River and We Were Promised Jetpacks. But that’s not to say they’re going over old ground musically, the final track of their self-titled EP ‘Womb’ epitomises their Mogwai-like talent for morose guitar music, but with the addition of those soft, mournful vocals, the crescendo-ing waves of sound become yet more painfully beautiful.

Album Review // My Tiger My Timing ~ Celeste

 Read on GoldFlakePaint

Named after a song by composer, singer, musician and disco producer Arthur Russell, My Tiger My Timing have been a few years in making their first album. The band formed in 2008, although this album is (self-) released on their label Snakes and Ladders Records, which has been going since 2005. Given this, you might be expecting something lo-fi or DIY. Not the case at all. MTMT make gleaming electro-pop, gloriously free of the standard dubstep breakdown that pollutes a lot of poppier indie dance music at the moment.

There’s a driving, rhythmic beat as the basis of almost every song, adding movement and an abundant feeling of joy. Third single, ‘The Gold Rush’, is a melodious blend of that beat and Anna Vincent’s sassy vocal delivery, bringing a darker element. There’s a catchy contrast between her swift and memorable delivery of “so near so far so happy you can join us” and the rising “ooh ohh ohh”s, underlaid with a swelling tropical guitar riff. The track becomes addictive and blissfully enjoyable; there’s something very unique and fresh about this album, clearly a band worth keeping an eye on.

Bands like Summer Camp and Class Actress are popularising an 80s nostalgia. MTMT also seem to draw inspiration from this, using it to make their sound distinctive and recognisable yet individual.

Demonstrating an understanding of the need not to make an album solely of cheerful sing-along tracks, ‘Celeste’ has its softer moments. ‘Memories Of Earth’ feels gentle, particularly after the thumping beat of ‘Honesty’, ending with echoing shouts that fade into laughter and that lovely guitar.
‘Celeste’ is appropriately named, it’s a heavenly mixture of ambient electronica, with hints of math-rock guitar and a sheer abundance and quality of vocal hooks you’d only expect from very good chart songs. Like the deceptively sweet looking girl clutching a shotgun on the front cover, ‘Celeste’ reels you in with sugary melodies and then ensures you won’t be going anywhere with an almost aggressively confident, darker layer.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Xiu Xiu Larsen, The Croft Bristol - 25th June '12

If you're reading this between 8-9pm GMT on Thursday 28th June then go HERE to listen to my radio show, where I'll be talking more about the gig and playing music from EMA, Xiu Xiu, Gunning For Tamar, Alt-J and more (as well as the new WHY? track).

The Croft is filled with the sounds of heavy metal guitars and screaming. This isn’t because Xiu Xiu Larsen have had a drastic change of sound, there’s also some kind of heavy metal evening going on in the next room tonight. Thanks to The Croft’s design, this is fairly easy to ignore, although it can be a little surprising later when XXL are keeping the audience enraptured, things fall silent, and there’s some thrashing going on in the background.

In the ‘main’ room we find Anta setting up in front of the stage – the rather large gong next to the drum kit attracting some attention. Without microphones as they are, there’s no in-between song chit chat (or singing), they don’t even pause at any point during the set. It’s a constant influx of noise, which can be a little overwhelming (and leaves you feeling a little dazed afterwards). But there are some catchy melodies and things never become self-indulgent. You might be fooled into thinking that there was no set structure to their set, but the clever fluctuating changes in rhythm and texture make it clear that everything is well calculated. Their set up in front of the stage allows the space to feel a little fuller but they soon pack away their (very impressive) array of amps, clearing the way for XXL. The latter are surrounded by a barrier of pedals, guitars, drum kit and unusual instruments - there’s even a theremin (although that doesn’t get much use) as well as several keyboards and a variety of small percussion.

XXL’s set begins gradually, building a blend of sound that seems almost without melody, until the drums lead with a beat and a much more defined shape emerges.  The audience is surprisingly small, at its peak there are perhaps no more than 30 people, which has the strange effect of making this feel like something secret. They all seem utterly absorbed in the performance, and there’s a small ripple of excitement when the opening notes of ‘Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw’ echo out. Invariably, Jamie Stewart (the Xiu Xiu part of Xiu Xiu Larsen) is drawing out a heart wrenching guitar melody, keenly emotive and almost unbearable in its beauty. It rises above the rest of the sound, pulling the reverberating chords and melodies around it into a web of noise that demands your attention until it’s the only thing you can think of.

Several of the tracks descend into the cacophony of fuzz and noise that Stewart’s band Xiu Xiu sometimes make use of. We’ve described before here at LBW how effective and affecting that can be, and whilst there is arguably a less calculated effect here, it somehow wraps itself inside your ears until the stabs of noise feel comfortable and necessary. It’s perhaps important to assert that this is certainly not a Xiu Xiu concert, but it also seems a touch illogical to consider tonight’s performance out of the context of Xiu Xiu.

Both bands are capable of evoking very strong feelings in the audience, often unexpectedly, and both feature that wonderful guitar - but there’s something rawer and less predictable, less safe, in XXL’s playing tonight. At times this can make it a harder listen and less rewarding. If you’re not in the right frame of mind then the bursts of noise and fuzz could feel alienating, but if you give them your full attention then it’s hypnotic, aggressively emotive and a powerful thing to watch.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

An Interview With Johnny Foreigner - “I felt like I’d kinda led people into talking about stuff I had no right hearing”

We caught up with Johnny Foreigner (who are playing The Garage, London this  Saturday as the last date of an extensive UK tour). They told us all about the making of Vs Everything, listening to people's conversations, and how being in Johnny Foreigner is like owning a water park.

- What are you proudest of as a band?

That there's a bunch of cites all over the world that we could go hang out in tomorrow; with friends and smokes and good music and adventures, and all because we write pop songs. Everything else, shows and tours and press and status, it's all super but still kinda fleeting; and it's when all that calms down for a few months and you take stock and think, shit, there's no way this would have happened  had we got real jobs.

- Your new album ‘Vs Everything’ is split into three sections did that happen naturally or was it planned from the start?

Yeh, totally from the start. We didn't know if we'd have 3 or 4 till kinda later on, I have a 4 part version playlist that includes all the songs that got used on the eps and single around it, but we scaled that back so the eps still felt special. We debated for ages, theoretically, about the tracklist but when it came to actually deciding we all came round pretty quickly to how it ended up

- Your track-by-track on DrownedInSound was really interesting, particularly the details of the people you’ve written about. How important is it to you to base your lyrics on personal experience?

Um, I think it's getting less and less. It used to be everything. Like, a lot of the stuff Vs Everything is 3rd person. I mean, its all true (more or less) but it's more other folks stories thru my filter. A lot of people said they related to songs on Waited Up; that – i've been there man – empathy. Grace was just as self obsessed, but I think I lost that empathy; instead of pubs and nightclubs and last buses, Grace is full of soundchecks and hotels and air travel. I always had this ideology of pure singing from the heart, I kinda challenged myself to write about stuff I cared about without necessarily lacing it with my opinion or putting it into personal context.

- Have you ever not used any lyrics because they were too personal?

No, I just bury them in feedback..  I think I've crossed the line in a few songs and it annoys me cos I'm onstage repeating it each night, but that's my own stupid hangup to deal with, it's not like I write explicitly enough that other people are going to cringe. And i've had a couple of really awkward stare at the floor moments with girls being like, wait that's me isn't it.. but I never have any kind of self-censoryness, I think the edge of personal/too personal suits us well.

- How did creating your new album with Alcopop differ to working with your previous label?

So so so much easier. I mean, I guess we're older now and we've kinda proven we know what we're doing, but Jack gave us money to pay Dom and left us alone for a few months. Before, it was like, argue negotiate compromise, a month in New York, and a whole dark frustrating world after trying to co-mix via email. I wouldn't change what happened cos we learnt so much, both about  the industry and production. But Jack's completely on our wavelength, it's as if he runs Alcopop in order to accumulate cool stories to tell his grandkids. To disappear and come back 6 months later with a double album is the kind of thing he expects from us

- The way you’ve used the audio clips about cursed songs is extremely effective, how did that idea come about? 

The original plan was to build a bank of conversation samples ourselves, just recording people around us. it just seemed kinda natural to ask out instead of doing it ourselves, both for variety and cos we're hella lazy. Also, recording people's conversations is weird if they know and weirder if they don't. Musique concrete is this hideously avant garde style of meshed field recordings and found sounds, we started off thinking we'd slip samples into loads of songs but there wasn't really the space. And we knew we'd need interval tracks, so I crafted them using whatever sound files I could rob from dropbox in true sonic guerilla style.

- What was it like to listen to them, and the personal feelings and emotions they describe?

Weird. Totally voyeuristic and slightly uncomfortable. I felt like i'd kinda led people into talking about stuff I had no right hearing. Idk, tumblr generation innit; intimacies aren't necessarily a personal thing

- How did you decide which audio clips to include? 

Harriet totally stood out, hers was the perfect mixture of weary resignation and affected teen nonchalance, so the first one was built around her. I've never met her so I hope that isn't offensive. It's super hard to do something like this and not be kinda studied about it; and that awareness in inflection and tones – talking publicly about something so personal, is kinda what made them uncomfortable to listen to bare. For the second one I cut everyone up into sentences and phrases and got stoned and tried to piece them together semi-coherently. And the last one is literally everyone..

- How important is involving your fans in your music? 

Honestly, it's not that much of a big deal to us, all these stupid adventures cos naturally. it's just hella fun. It's like, if you own a water park, d'you try and build a bigger pool to fit more people in, or buy a wave machine and slides and fun stuff for the people already in? We're totally into doing the latter in this awful metaphor, but, if it was a shit water park and noone ever came, it'd still be our very own god damn water park.  Being able to involve people to the level we do is a fun perk of having those people care enough in the first place, and I wouldn't really trust bands that didn't want to be close to the people fucking paying their way. We formed a band cos we wanted a badass hxc gang that listened to pavement and capn jazz and smokes weed and we could hang out with in any city ever, not cos we think we're special, or  worse, separable. 

- I think it’s fair to say the NME weren’t particularly mature or fair about their coverage of Vs Everything, what’re your thoughts about what’s happened between them and the band? 

Meh. Feel like we were kinda set up, in that, a week before that review, they were like, sure we'll stream your record on our site and everyone's into it. It's just that Ricky guy really hates us cos my record store day blog spread around so much and I was really rude about him in it.  Whilst I wish it had got  an 8 or 9 instead, we probably got more publicity this way, so, from a business side, it was fine, and we both got our little ego trips out of it.  I stand by every word I said about Ricky, the fact that he's an editor of the NME says more about the NME nowadays than his review said about us. But really, a dying old magazine sponsored by a hair product, no way are we going to lose sleep over that..

- Where did your anti-leaking strategy for Vs Everything come from?
From seeing other bands do the first part and then still suffer the leak; it's easy to make a spazzed copy of the record, but it has to go viral (at least, in our tiny community) for it to have any effect. The people who're most into the band are the ones most likely to leak the record; kids with review blogs who love what you do so much they're compelled to share it. And bands are always, hey dont do this, don't leak it, don't tell anyone yet. It didn't seem that much of a jump to think, if you involve them in this, explain why it's important and how they can help, instead of begging them to go against instinct, then it greatly increases the chances of getting away with it.

- How much of a difference do you feel it made? 

Idk, it's impossible to quantitatively state innit. I'm not naïve enough to think there aren't people who had copies earlier than they should, but the endgame was to concentrate hype as opposed to win the internet. I mean, it didn't leak, (or if it did, it was so far from our channels as to make no difference)and now we're making money and have a summer of festivals to look forward to. I'd be very surprised if the links haven't died out now, and it was as easy to get as everyone elses records, but more than anything it reassured us that all the people that say they care about our band, really do care. 

- If you could change one thing about being in a band, what would it be?

 If you mean our band, we'd have learnt to drive. Same answer, every time, highlighted bold underlined. I mean, now it's not really practical, but we've spent so much, turned stuff down, missed out on parties, cos none of us has a fucking clue how cars work. If you mean, every band tho, we should all have to wear nametags. Audiences too.

- What’s in the future for Johnny Foreigner?


*One final thing, tonight, from 8-9pm, you can listen in to Spark Radio to hear me (Mel) talk about the interview, and Johnny Foreigner - as well as music from Los Campesinos!, Tall Ships, Summer Camp and Serengeti. If you want to discuss anything you've just read as well, make sure you listen in. Song requests are welcome too.*

Monday, 26 March 2012

Los Campesinos! + Tall Ships; Thekla, Bristol 21/03

Wednesday night at Bristol’s Thekla gets underway early and Tall Ships perform in a way that would be commendable for a headlining band. It’s rare to see a support band captivate the audience so fully, but completely understandable. The gently harmonised vocals are a contrast to the fast, sharp guitars; a powerful combination, strengthened by the vast crescendos overlaid with solid, lyrical melodies. ‘Vessels’ is a set highlight and a fitting track for the venue, not only in title (for those unaware, Thekla is a boat). The misleadingly slow and delicate opening melts into a thrumming drumbeat, filling the air and we all join in the chanting, “the vessel, that carried you and me, now sits at the bottom, the bottom of the sea…”

The boat was busy enough for Tall Ships, but waiting for Los Campesinos! it somehow manages to get even cosier; the balcony area looks fit to burst and down on the floor it’s already uncomfortably warm. That’s not a surprise. It’s a sold-out homecoming gig, as LC! are fond of reminding us they’re local (and definitely not Welsh).
Rocking back and forth to the beat, the entire band seems to be perfectly content with the newer songs. Coming after a few shaky first gigs with the new material, this is a positive sign. After the aching beauty of ‘To Tundra’, Gareth solemnly intones that quality is guaranteed from here on in, as “all the songs left have been featured on BBC3 programmes”. This is said with a wry smile, he’s fully aware that most people here are going to know the words to whatever they choose to play. With that, they launch into the infamous “beer song”. The days of bratty shouting and atonal glockenspiel are certainly long behind them, but the anticipation of the gradually building guitar on ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, comes only partly from nostalgia. It’s a testament to the band’s understanding of what they mean to their audience that they don’t leave this one out......

Read the rest on GoldFlakePaint

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Xiu Xiu Bristol Fleece - 12th March '12

The first support band, Crash and the Bandicoots, shuffle onto a stage filled with fairy lights and paper lanterns. They're enjoyable and confident, using audio clips to introduce their songs (in much the same way as Fight Like Apes). The clapping, fairy lights and "ooh ahh"-ing looks on paper a bit twee, but that's not the case at all and they're a fun, interesting band to see. Up next are Trumpets Of Death; unlike their predecessors they don't stop between songs, each echoing note melding into the next. It's an impressive show, including some incredible saxophone playing, the only flaw being that they lack the immediacy of the other bands. Of course, the real trouble with supporting a band like tonight's headliners is that they are who we're all really here to see.

There's no talking between tracks tonight (as is usual with Xiu Xiu), but the band all seem perfectly content with the silence. Stewart speaks only twice - thanking the support bands at the start, and then thanking us in an equally hushed tone. His speaking voice is at odds with the raw power of his singing; he dodges between howls on 'This Too Shall Pass Away' (the only track they play from 'Dear God I Hate Myself'), and the beautiful, heart-breaking melody of 'Fabulous Muscles'. Silence falls almost completely for this track. The drummer, Marc Riordan, makes his way to the front of the stage to stand silently next to Stewart, hands clasped with a solemn expression, looking for all the world like someone in mourning. The crowd is unexpectedly small, especially for a band that's travelled so far to get here, but those that have come seem to be dedicated fans. There's a smatter of impolite talking over the start of a few tracks but that soon settles down as the songs develop. The set-list is clever and well thought out, the sublime refrain of 'Suha', "I hate my husband, I hate my children...when will I be going home?" is right at home next to the melodic "la la la"-ing on 'Joey's Song', one of the tracks from the new album 'Always'.

There's definitely something religious about the dedication of Xiu Xiu's listeners, and in the fairly small number of people here, there doesn't seem to be even close to a "type" of fan. If you just can't understand what makes people fall in love with this band, then seeing them live is probably the best way to appreciate the magnetism they undoubtedly have. I've seen Xiu Xiu casually dismissed in reviews on grounds of 'weirdness'. And yes, there can be some surprising and unusual moments in their music, but you soon come to realise there's nothing random about those crashing cymbals, or interjections of noise. It's all been crafted delicately together to form a powerful undercurrent; an unstoppable barrage of melodies that suck you in, wrenching at your gut, and all the while Stewart's lyrics, bizarre and startling at each turn, weave and float on top. They finish tonight's set with the magnificent 'I Love The Valley OH!', probably the closest thing they've got to a "hit single". As Stewart and the crowd roar out the infamous "OH!" of the title, I realize that (and it's completely clichéd) there's no easy way to put into words how a band like Xiu Xiu can make you feel. With those infamously unflinching lyrics, agonizingly catchy guitar riffs and drums that thump like a heartbeat, they were never going to be everyone's cup of tea, but that doesn't stop them being the most brilliant, surprising, and unforgettable band of the last ten years.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

Mike Hadreas’ first album as Perfume Genius was ten short songs of pain, whispered out in his trademark delicate voice and recorded in his mum’s house without any particular intention to be released, it’s intimate in a way that can be almost difficult to hear at times. Hadreas himself is a shy, almost damaged seeming character, singing of awful things with a smile and a shaking voice, over a gentle piano. ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ does not show much deviation from this effective formula, even using a couple of re-recorded demos from before ‘Learning’, the beautiful piano arpeggios and hushed vocals remain.

Hadreas’ words seem to be precisely shaped from an almost exquisite hurt, but they’re never complicated, no overwrought metaphors or vivid descriptions, instead, his words almost tumble out, and seem obvious once they’re said – the sign of a true lyrical talent. The second track, ‘Normal Song’ opens with an uncomplicated line that somehow manages to communicate a whole lot more; “hold my hand, I am afraid” he asks plaintively. It’s not all doom and gloom though; often what makes these songs seem so upsetting is the glimmer of hope they describe. For example, on ‘Dark Parts’ (written as a present for his mum) he promises “I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart”. This album also shows a little more instrumental variety than ‘Learning’; a dark bass riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Twin Peaks soundtrack opens ‘Floating Spit’, and the gentle pounding drums on ‘Dark Parts’ add a sense of urgency, when things could otherwise have felt a little too heavy. It closes with ‘Sister Song’, the Perfume Genius version of an arena-filling anthem – a reverberating guitar picks out a melody that sounds patriotic in some strange way, with typically revealing yet mysterious lyrics, and a sense of anticipation.

Bands like Snow Patrol and singers like Adele are often lauded for the ability their songs have to induce emotion (…and how well their songs go with sad montages on the TV). But true heartbreak, true grief – almost at the point where it seems cathartic, wretched and destructive – is to be found in this album.....

Read the rest on GoldFlakePaint

Friday, 24 February 2012

Yr Friends Have Already Left

Alexei Berrow of Johnny Foreigner is almost disgustingly productive, not six months have passed since the last EP from his solo project Yr Friends - and in that time Johnny Foreigner released their brilliant third album 'Vs Everything'. Such prolificacy would be annoying, except anyone who finds more music from Berrow/Jo-Fo to be a bad thing is clearly not listening properly, if at all.  This EP is in much the same vein as his previous release, 'Yr Friends Have Been Lying To You', which we described as "wrapping you up in gentle guitar melodies... addictive and affecting".

This time Berrow sighs his accounts of bills, exhaustion, late nights and hope over soft electronic humming and warm harmonies, rather than the gently plucked guitar of the previous EP. It gives you a fleeting glimpse, on a misty night, in to Berrow's world - he promises to "sing from the heart" and he does. The stories he weaves are given all the more weight for the authenticity they communicate. But it's not all beautifully worded realism, on the fourth track things get a bit more morbid "I wanna sea burial, I won't leave a mark". Tackling money woes, relationships and death in less than 17 minutes, it's a real gem and we can only hope there's yet still more to come.

Buy it for only £4

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Live: The Twilight Sad - Bristol Fleece, Feb 13th '12

The Twilight Sad's latest album, 'No One Can Ever Know' is the result of a conscious decision to change the band's sound. Any decision that attempts to avoid stagnation, in a climate where bands often seem almost afraid to try anything different on the next album, is certainly admirable. So, gone is the crashing wall of wailing guitars. But at its heart, the album still has the confidence and individuality that make the Twilight Sad stand out, something they've maintained since their first releases. 

 They begin the gig with the heavy droning beat from 'Kill It In The Morning', the final track on the new album. The unsettling feeling that their music has always induced in their audience so well is even more powerful live, and as the first synth melodies shiver out it's clear that this 'new sound' is going to be even more potent live. Lead singer James Graham barely opens his eyes throughout, contorting his face as he shudders along to the beat. His vocals are one of the best things about the band - consistently strong, clear and melodic - in fact sometimes on record they aren't quite given the spotlight they deserve. Graham's intense concentration may be contributing to the fact that tonight his voice is something of a magnet, grabbing the audience's focus and holding it. Although that's not to say that the rest of the band aren't equally talented; the echoing thrum and fuzz of the surrounding sound contrasts well with the solid beauty of his voice. 

 The between-song chat is kept to a minimum, Graham mumbles with a smile in reply to a heckle of "I love you", that "you wouldn't, I'm a total nobhead" and aside from their murmured words of gratitude, that's it.  Each song is blended into the next; they are clearly comfortable playing the new songs, side-by-side with some of their older stuff. The melodic hum of 'And She Would Darken The Memory' swells around, as Graham howls "the rabbit might die" then, without missing a beat the next track is reverberating around the dingy, fairy-light lit interior of The Fleece. The constant barrage of sound is arresting, but in a consuming, intense way and the open (if slightly chilly) interior of the venue suits their sound well. They seem genuinely surprised and grateful at the turnout, modestly calling themselves "only a tiny band from Scotland. The Twilight Sad may only think of themselves as a tiny band, but they are a band guaranteed to give an atmospheric performance and in the context of tonight's show their latest album has really starts to make more sense for me. Captivating, engaging, and well worth watching.
The Fleece have got some really great gigs coming up, take a look (the Xiu Xiu date in particular should be incredible).

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Benjamin Shaw - There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet

Audio Antihero Records, November ‘11

In much the same ways as a wise old man might sit down by a fire and impart his wisdom, Benjamin Shaw uses ‘There’s Always Hope…’ to tell tales of everyday trials and tribulations with flair and a humorous sense of gravity. ‘Interview’ details the inevitability of stressing out about a job interview, knowing that even if you got the job it’d only make you more miserable. His self-deprecating humour is one of the reasons this never even begins to sound like the work of ‘just another bloke’ with an acoustic guitar, no mean feat when you’re a bloke with an acoustic guitar making music. He may be keen on chaotic clamour, but you’d be a fool to let Shaw’s talent for melodies pass you by. These melodies sink their claws into you, refusing to let go as they ride the ebb and swell of the surrounding fuzzy mess. That’s not to say that we’ve not been shown this talent before, the opening track on his EP ‘I Got the Pox, the Pox Is What I Got’ gives us over a minute of beeping and unintelligible voices, before the gentle guitar strumming begins and his characteristically heart-wrenching, yet simple, lines are mumbled out. It could be suggested that Shaw is trying to disguise an ability to make very listenable and pleasant music, behind a barrier of noise and dissonance. But that would be unfair and inaccurate at best. The droning and creaking that begins ‘HULK’, the closing track of ‘There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet’, only adds to its absolute, aching beauty. This track pulls at you, it’s addictive and there’s a bizarre sense of joy permeating through the pain. And as Shaw declares in his dejected but strangely powerful voice that “I can’t control…what it does to me”, you’ll begin to wish that not only is there hope and cabernet, there’s also more to come from this (self-confessed) ‘singer-songwanker’.
Buy it

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Yr Friends Have Been Lying To You

Johnny Foreigner have always had a talent for soft, delicate ballads of heartbreak and this EP from lead singer Alexei Berrow feels almost like a collection of their finest, quiet tracks. It wraps you up in gentle guitar melodies and Berrows’ trademark; quotable, repeated choruses will swirl around your head long after you stop listening.

His talent for narrating a story in an engaging but deeply personal way is concentrated on this short release, thanks in part to the beautifully sparse arrangement. Over a sea-shanty like rocking guitar he murmurs, “I think he’d be good for you, I think you’d be good for each other “. One of the best things about Johnny Foreigner is their ability to be widely relatable to - without becoming clichéd and while I’m being careful to try and view this out of the context of Johnny Foreigner, this still comes across
There’s something addictive and affecting in the simple guitar melodies and Berrows’ despondent tone, perhaps why this EP feels like it’s for escaping in to on a lonely journey on a misty evening. Maybe even thinking about how (as the first song is titled) ‘the walk home was not as dramatic as you’d hoped for’. Again, their brilliant descriptions of tiny scences of teenage love, heartbreak and day-to-day life are partly what make Johnny Foreigner such a great band and this EP just shows what a talented song-writer Berrow is. Well worth £3.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Dear Reader - 'Idealistic Animals'

If you take a look at the title of Dear Reader’s second album Idealistic Animals and at the tracklisting you’d quite easily come to the conclusion that this album is heavily themed. Each song is named after an animal, with a sub-title in brackets. For example the first song is called FOX (Take Your Chances). This caught my attention immediately and had me anticipating my first listen a little more than I’d expected. I was a little concerned that it may become a metaphor heavy, difficult and unrewarding listen, however these clear themes aren’t at any point overpowering; it’d be fairer to say that it just gives you two ways to look at each song, which is a very interesting idea.

That opening track creates a powerful scene; Cheri MacNeil’s gentle voice describes being awoken by loneliness, which leads to her looking out a window at the night sky and the falling snow. She goes on to sing “this is the coming of the Lord,” but this is no praising hymn, she’s thinking about how “He’s not got to us yet”. It’s worth noting that ‘Idealistic Animals’ was written following MacNeil’s loss of faith after around twenty years of devotion to religion, saying she “chose to believe that I was an important part of a saga with a happy ending. Now I am aware that there are no tidy conclusions”. Once you’re aware of this, you begin to notice that the clear structure of the track listing and the balanced nature of the songs are still permeated by a sense of isolation and uncertainty – and, at times, fear. The soothing plucked guitar that opens ‘MOLE (Mole)’ soon drops back to the rise of the drums and the image of a lost mole making friends by colliding in dim tunnels, chosen by God, is a dark one....

Read the rest on GoldFlakePaint

Monday, 2 January 2012

One Of The Finest Albums of 2011 (That I Missed Completely).

As the New Year dawned, it did not cross my mind that I'd missed anything major off my 'Best Of...' list. Sure, it was a struggle to cut down, let alone order. But, I thought, there aren't any glaring omissions....of course, I was completely wrong about that.

In April 2011 Elena Tonra released the first of two EPs, 'His Young Heart', then, in November accompanied by Remi Aguilella on drums she released a second four-track EP, 'The Wild Youth'. Both EPs are hauntingly beautiful, Elena's voice softly murmurs out detailed stories. On 'Landfill' she begs to be left on the train tracks, in the rain, thrown in a landfill, covered by snow or left at the altar. The simplicity of her writing is part of its charm, these descriptions of abandonment surround the crucial line of the song, widely applicable but feeling like a revelation of her darkest secret as she whispers "this is dangerous 'cause I want you so much but I hate your guts".
Both EPs are prime examples of how successful that format can be. Four songs long, each song a fairly average length with mostly one-word titles - if you chose to, you could listen to them together (as I normally do which is why I said album in the title), but there's no need to. Elena Tonra's gentle guitar plucking and husky voice are likely to become a key part of the music I'll listen to in 2012.

Listen to the EPs on Soundcloud or purchase from Bandcamp.